To his brother Julian, two months after the end of the First World War, Aldous Huxley wrote that freedom ‘is the only thing in the world worth having and the people who can use it properly are the only ones worthy of the least respect: the others are all madmen, pursuing shadows and prepared at any moment to commit acts of violence. The prospects of the universe seem to me dim and dismal to a degree.’
The Guardian recently reported the results of a poll jointly conducted by academics from Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh. They found that a majority of voters in England, Wales and Scotland surveyed ‘believe that the possibility of some level of violence against MPs is a “price worth paying” in order to get their way on Brexit’: of the Leave voters who took part in the study, this was true of 71% in England, 60% in Scotland and 70% in Wales. And all this just a little more than three years after the murder of MP Jo Cox by an extreme right-wing terrorist who shouted ‘Britain first!’ Perhaps even more depressing, the majority of remain voters also felt that the risk of violence towards MPs was worth it if it meant the United Kingdom would stay in the EU – 58% in England, 53% in Scotland and 56% in Wales.
(As a cheering footnote, voters overwhelmingly felt that the potential destruction of the country’s farming and fishing industries would also be a price worth paying for getting the result they wanted in the Brexit negotiations.)
‘The point to be made about the GREAT TRADE ROUTE’, Ford Madox Ford wrote to E. C. Cumberlege of Oxford University Press on 27 October 1936, ‘is that it is not the book of a meditative gentleman who stands before ruined temples and pours mournful soliloquies on old unhappy things, but as it were the testament of a man usually of action who has spent a long life not only on writing and study but on digging, editing, carpentry, cooking, small holding, fighting both literally and metaphorically and in every kind of intrigue that could advance what he considers to be the cause of good letters…’
Great Trade Route was published by Oxford in January 1937 (and by Allen and Unwin in the United Kingdom). ‘But no sort of civilization is possible’, Ford writes there, ‘when difference of opinions can be considered a pretext for murder . . . or even for physical violence.’
A good many political and social commentators have lately been asking: ‘What sort of country do we want to be?’ Or, perhaps more realistically: ‘What sort of country has this become?’ The answer to the first question must be: better than this. And the second? It’s complicated – at least, we hope so.
 Letters of Aldous Huxley, edited by Grover Smith (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969), 173-174.
 Ford Madox Ford, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 264.
 Ford Madox Ford, Great Trade Route (London: Allen & Unwin, 1937), 291.